Thursday, February 28, 2013

Notes from Staycation: Homework, Santa Cruz and Cool Jewelry Tools

I spent the afternoon working on the homework Coach Max gave me yesterday. Her method is partially a system of inquiry and partially teaching you to understand your internal physical cues to determine the "rightness" of a situation/direction. Once you learn those cues, you learn what to do with the information you get from them. As a person who spends a fair amount of time in my head, this is a useful approach.

But what a great day for homework! I took my notebook to Verve in Santa Cruz and sat in the sunshine enjoying an espresso as well as the low traffic on Pacific Garden.  Its amazing how the rocket fuel spurs thought! Also, just enjoying being somewhere with nowhere to go was so luxurious.

Part of my assignment was to write down a list of things I was deferring to "later". On the list was to take more walks along the water--there was no way Staycation was going to pass me by without a nice long walk on West Cliff. My physical therapist cleared me for longer, brisker walks yesterday--progress is being made!

You don't get to see how it used to look.
I spent the morning completing the organization of my home office. Part of keeping flow is making sure my space is organized for the things I do all the time. In this room I do my workout, write, meditate and play music (when I make the time that is). Before the space was too cramped and cluttered so I spent most of my time in there feeling pretty distracted--not exactly inspired. Also, gave away some things which brings me to my next topic...

Who wants to be a jeweler?!?

Tools and beads and wires--oh my!
Here is the deal. I want to trade all the materials and tools in this picture for something wonderful. This collection includes lamp worked beads, silver wire, dichroic cabochons, murano gold foil beads, fresh water pearls, a bunch of nifty charms, glass figures and too many other things too list (but can be seen in the photo. Also, the tools have every sort of plier, cutter, mandrel blah blah blah to make far more than bead based jewelry. I can see from the photo there a couple of tools that didn't make it into the frame (an extra set of wire wrapping pliers (excellent quality) and a metal block for shaping silver or other soft metals.

I want to use these things to make a connection with someone who is excited by them and who has a fun and interesting trade to make. You can use these to start a new hobby, expand an existing one, make money from what you create or even start your own Red Paper Clip project

The best part is you don't have to hang onto them--you can trade them again when you are ready for something new in your life. Tools, materials etc...they are only alive when they are in use or circulation. I wanted these to have the joy of life in them again.

The point for me doing this trade is I'm making room to pursue other interests at a deeper level. The jewelry making project served an important purpose when I took it up (and started a love affair with Venice Italy--a lifetime gift). Now its time for someone else to be sparked with magic.

Here are the ground rules:

1. Its all or nothing. I won't break up the collection.

2. We both have to be thrilled with and excited by the trade.

3. We meet in person to do the trade. Yes, I'll meet you half way somewhere. I like going places--what can I say? Also, the point is to make a connection--this should be fun and an opportunity to make friends. I might not be able to accommodate this if you are abroad...write anyway...who knows?

Included along with this are a couple extra surprises for fun. Generosity and sparking inspiration light me up!

If you are interested please leave a comment below. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Notes from Staycation: What's up?

So, I told myself I needed a staycation because my yard needed my personal attention and I was the only person who could do the things that need to happen.

Three hours into the job I was covered in puncture wounds from cutting back my bougainvillea and not making lots of progress. I used executive decision making and decided this work needed someone else to do it for $$$ or other. One hour after that decision was made my older brother called and asked if I needed help with the yard. Synchronicity rules!

What I really needed was a dose of perspective that comes from detaching completely from the daily routine.  For example I sat with a cup of coffee and did nothing but drink it. At least a dozen times I got the urge to get up and "do" something. I just stayed in one place, sipping my coffee, scratching my dog behind the ears and looking out the window.

It weighs 18 lbs!

Another thing I did was actually take time to read a book that showed up minutes before I left for my sister's. I read a great deal for business already but this is more like a business book crossed with an art book. Its simply beautiful...something I easily could have put aside indefinitely waiting for the perfect time to plumb into. As a child I adored large format books. I even had a coffee table edition of the King James bible that I carried to church--it's probably partially responsible for the good upper body strength I still have.

I'm also trying out something new. I just finished an appointment with a personal coach--not one for running but one who helps refine thinking by asking lots of good questions and exploring strategies based on what is uncovered in the inquiry. I engaged a coach because I wanted to vet some ideas with someone outside my personal circle. I've always been intrigued by the concept of personal coaching and wanted to experience it first hand.

Coach Max is a totally cool rockin' queen of the world. I felt immediately at ease with her and able to discuss my ideas in my own way without too much additional explanation. It was impressive how closely she was able to track my train of thought. She also did homework before our session which was refreshing. Check out her blog...I find it inspiring and entertaining.

On the subject of coaching, innovation, creation this quote by Albert Einstein keeps coming up:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

So often we are tempted to follow solutions without really understanding the root of whatever it is we are trying to change or improve. At work I'm learning Customer Driven Innovation (CDI) which is a system of inquiry that reveals root cause, tracks where processes become suboptimal (as well as where they peak) and then uses that insight to help drive change/innovation. Coaching is so similar to that...Max was careful to understand my own peaks and valley's before we even began to talk about directions. We spoke of small experiments to try and little changes I could make to see if my compass is facing North.

May you experience penetrating inquiry and be filled with insight!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Notes from Staycation Day 1

About a month ago I realized I needed an enormous dose of perspective so I scheduled a staycation. The need for this was made crystal clear by an uninvited lizard brain attack loss of my filters that I will write about in a separate post. But here's where we are so far...

After I signed off at work I deleted my work email accounts from my phone and iPad and started my plan of Awesome.

First thing, before I left I received my annual review where nice things were said. No revelations but it was a chance to chat with my former manager who validated some of my frustrations. It was nice to connect with him and we had a warm conversation. He is the Red State version of myself--we always have thoughtful, deep conversations where we can put our perspectives on the table fully. I wish we had this kind of cross aisle discourse in congress.

Another nice thing that happened was the opportunity to watch a charitable org one of my programs is coaching. The Valley Verde mission is to help low income families obtain access to organic food by teaching them to garden, setting up gardens for them and being available as coaches and consultants. Additionally, they offer these services to people with the means to pay them full market rate and use that as a vehicle to employ some of their clients. I immediately signed up. My goal this week is to do a thorough clean up of my yard and hire someone to maintain it. This could be my ideal match.

Made a gallon of IPA from a kit. I have made beer in the past but 5 gallons is simply too much beer for me to consume. One gallon gives me the same pleasure of making but the consumable is gone in a reasonable amount of time. It will be ready to drink in a few weeks!

This morning my shipment from Quarterly. I'm an unashamed Tim Ferris fan so I couldn't wait to get his kit. Look at all this crazy awesome stuff! I've always wanted one of these pull saws. Also, the athletic greens is pretty tasty...pineappley. I'm also really enamoured with the pencils...they write in blue.

When I learned about Quarterly I immediately started giving subscriptions as gifts. Its just fun to get stuff in the mail.

Miss Keri and I are about to head out to Morro Bay to see my sister for the weekend--there will be wine drinking, cooking, beach walks and antiquing involved. More later...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How can I support myself?

The term organization sometimes comes with a vision of a pristine house with bare surfaces and cute containers that have everything just so. While I appreciate the vision, the perfectionism it implies exhausts me.

Having said that, essential organization is important if you want to use your energy to its best effect and encounter minimal resistance during your day. I've started asking myself the question "how can I support myself in doing X". This is basic stuff and it always starts with making sure I do the things that will ensure mental clarity throughout the day.

I've been dealing with some challenges lately that could derail me if I let them. I woke up in a bad mood which right then made me want to pull the covers over my head and delay my day. However, I had already supported myself to counter act this. I set my alarm so I would wake up slowly (3 alarms a half hour apart) and had my glass of water on the night stand ready. From there it was me just going through my routine--all steps in someway designed to ensure my mind would be operating at whatever level it was able to today--despite impending stress.

Oh, it was quite a mental carnival this morning. I tried to talk myself out of making my lunch and just reading the news but all the ingredients were available so it was easy to do. Once I had that in place I did a short strength routine, dressed and was out the door on time.

Keep in mind I wanted to talk myself into staying home. I wanted to do some other impulsive, not productive things on top of that. I wanted to give someone a piece of my mind. Miss Keri said she could hear me grousing which is a sign that I'm irritated.

Here's my point. Because I had a few small things organized and ready I was able to do all the things that gets my mind sorted out and available. I can think of plenty of times in the past when I wasn't prepared and had to white knuckle it through my day. When I recognize that my emotional or mental reserves are low, its imperative to have simple, easy to follow rituals that make sure I am doing the best I am able to on any given day.

Here is my go to list for making sure I'm fully supported:
* gentle wake up--I set the alarm so I get 7 hours of sleep a night--the last hour I start waking up with soft alarms set at half hour intervals.

* I drink water in the morning--I drink a full glass before my feet hit the floor. You lose hydration as you sleep--this makes sure your levels are back up as soon as possible

* I have a small breakfast right after I get up--I shake up Vega One and chia seeds and it goes down the hatch. Like water, your body is also using energy in your sleep. A small meal restores your glucose levels which are necessary for proper brain function.

* I make sure I have coffee in the house so I can have a cup after meditation. A little caffeine is good for bringing systems on line.

* I shop before the week starts so I have ingredients for lunch and snacks handy--I make sure there is a container of cooked quinoa in the fridge which I mix with a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit and kale or roasted broccoli--this is my lunch. I keep greek yogurt and fruit on hand for mid morning and afternoon snacks. Also, I keep a box of Luna Bars in my desk and another container of Vega One in case my day goes long or I get over taxed and need a boost.

* I drink herbal tea to stay hydrated--I make sure I have my favorites at my desk and drink several cups a day. I drink water too but I prefer a hot beverage.

* I clear things off the counter when I get home and make sure the dishes are in the dishwasher. Its draining to see piles of stuff everywhere--it takes 15 minutes to get the counters in shape if I'm on top of it. The rest I leave for the housekeeper who comes every two weeks. The house isn't pristine but its good enough for guests.

* I have my daily carry sorted out--this includes my reading glasses, company badge, pocket knife, car keys and cell phone. I have all of these in the chest of drawers near the exit. Having these in place is one last thing to tax my resources when I'm trying to leave.

My evenings I consider myself to mostly be "off the leash" so I relax--I require very little in the way of organization to do this. However if I want to start up a project that requires my energy and attention I employ a ritual to make the transition smooth--this is especially important if my day at work has been stressful.

None of these are big ticket items to keep going. I don't think Martha Stewart magazine will be dropping by to do a photo op anytime soon but that level of order makes me tired to contemplate which is counter productive. The goal is to facilitate flow.

Do you have any rituals in place that make your day go smoothly? Please share in the comments.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cupcakes, cheese buns

For my birthday this year I asked for a casual dessert party--however instead of Miss Keri and I making one of our mainstays (pie anyone?) we decided to do some experimenting.

I have to come clean on something. Miss Keri and I both have perfectionist streaks that usually aren't visible except in the kitchen. We both get some standard of what is "right" for whatever we are going to make and only that will do. I'm especially picky about baking--I don't like to spring untested recipes on friends. Too much can go wrong and I usually can't handle the idea that someone will try something I make and only have a "polite" serving followed by faint praise. The thought actually gives me a stomach ache.

I don't know exactly what got into me but I was lent a cook book from a friend --The Momofuko Milk Bar book. I have over 100 cookbooks--many of which I've never used. But for some reason I couldn't bear returning this book without trying at least one recipe. And for some reason I had to try it at this party.

As I read through the book I had the sensation of my enamel sliding off my teeth...everything seemed so over the top crazy sweet! But at the end of the book is a small selection of savory items based on the Momofuko "mother dough" recipe. After a week of vacillating I decided to do Bagel Bombs and put my own spin on them.

Similarly driven, Miss Keri cracked open her new Martha Stewart cake book and asked me to pick a recipe. Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting of course! Should be simple enough, right?

Cupcakes of glory!
The baking was chaos.

Every single one of my buns (which were stuffed with a blend of sharp cheddar and cream cheese) exploded rupturing the top of each bun with a lava flow of cheese. Also, despite an extended time in the oven, they came out barely brown. They should have been shiny, round and deeply bronzed--not pale, deformed mini volcanoes. I considered not putting them out. But I ate one and it wasn't horrible so I said fuck it, popped them in the over for another ten minutes and put them out anyway. At least the oven didn't catch on fire.

Miss Keri planned to pipe graceful soft-serve like mounds onto her cupcakes but found that we had no bags to pipe with. Miss Keri grabbed her car keys to go to the store. However, with less than a half hour before our friends were supposed to arrive I begged her to simplify her vision.

This suggestion was not well received.

After a short heated discussion regarding reality, time and space, Miss Keri simply spooned the extremely soft butter cream into little mounds on each cake and finished them off with a candied violet petal. The butter cream wouldn't smooth out and kept making little points. I kept getting dagger looks so I busied myself with the bar.

But guess what? Everyone loved our ugly buns and not perfectly smooth cupcakes. I guess that was because they were AMAZING! The cheese volcanoes disappeared. Everyone went back for seconds on the cupcakes (or in my case fourths).

Nancy's bitchin' axe.
We chatted, ate and drank for a solid two hours. Nancy brought out her newly finished cigar box ukulele. Holly shared her book idea. Tigger made our dog, Liebchen, feel like the most special lady at the table (I need to step up my game on that front--at least with Liebchen). And Jackie gave me a "random acts" box to store artifacts from my various personal experiments (I love this thing--Jackie has a black belt in perfect gift giving).

I spent the evening in a hazy sugar/champagne coma feeling extremely loved up and happy. I'm really glad the afternoon didn't end up being about my fixation on turning out perfect baked goods.

I'll let someone else worry about how shiny their buns are.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mental Toughness

I've made a few postings on how to trick the lizard brain so you can do things such as build habits and have more mental availability. I wanted to say something about where mental toughness fits in.

Mental toughness is the quality you need (some might call it discipline but its more than that) when things are hard. Either a situation you face is awful, you are tired or you have some internal resistance (lizard brain!) that wants you to give up, sleep in or some how procrastinate your activities into never never land.

In my opinion, you don't want to rely on mental toughness as a strategy. Its a high energy spend that if used as a default is going to fail. To use a physical analogy, I could probably go run 10 miles right now but my body wouldn't be able to do the same thing again tomorrow. I'm not conditioned for it and I have an injury compounding it.

We all have things we need to do. We all need to make a living in some way, get exercise in, take care of our home and family, manage our money etc. If you are white knuckling it through these things day in and out, your life is going to be a painful grind and you will never have the energy to do the interesting things your life should be focused on. The alternative is for your life to devolve into chaos so you can focus on one or two things. Neither of these approaches are very good.

The approach to life I've been working on develops mental availability by eliminating unnecessary conflicts with will. The approach is basic--rest deeply so your mind and body fully recover. Eat and drink well and enough for peak clarity. Develop a baseline of habits that minimize chaos and keep you moving towards your important goals.

The point is to not struggle with these basic things. Once your mind is clear (because it is well rested and well fed) resistance is much less likely to show up. Once you eliminate unnecessary inconvinience by integrating rituals in your daily flow, baseline activities become second nature.

You make these adjustments over time--its not an overnight process. It also doesn't help to compare where you are with where someone else is in the process.  Much of what we perceive to be an infinite depth of mental toughness in others is simply very good organization facilitated by the right help.

My partner used to work with a woman who said she relaxed by coming home and cleaning her house so it was spotless--this was after a three hour daily commute. I got tired just hearing this! I hire someone to do the mopping and polishing of surfaces because I don't find cleaning relaxing. I spend 15 minutes picking things up when I get home from work which includes loading/unloading the dishwasher--that's it. My energy is better spent on other things. Also, I would never agree to a job that required I drive 3 hours everyday. There is no home so grand or paycheck so enormous that I would sacrifice nearly one fifth of my waking hours to commuting--the circumstances would need to be extreme for me to agree to that. 

Being selective is important. Small can be beautiful--by that I mean small consistent efforts instead of trying to do everything. I won't lie and say this has always been my modus operandi--as I write about these things I'm learning to do them as well.

It's impossible for me to count the number of times I've put together a grand plan to change everything in my life and have it blow up in 30 seconds or less. However, since I've worked on improving my mental availability and flow, my motivation has increased and even difficult things are doable--mental toughness isn't even a factor.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Habit forming and ritualization

Ok, disgusting factoid about myself. I didn't start flossing my teeth regularly until a little less than a year ago. And I didn't start the habit because of my own good sense. A good friend of mine started a personal campaign to floss daily stating that it has a far greater impact on overall health than many other acts that take more time and effort (not to mention it just saves your teeth and gums).

I attached flossing it to the time between brushing my teeth and bed--I never change those rituals. I don't get to lie down until I floss, period. I still don't necessarily want to. I don't enjoy it. But now I feel weird if I don't floss. Also, now my gums don't bleed.

The adage goes it takes 21 days to create a habit--I think it takes longer for it to really set in and you can still derail habits with changes in routines before the habit is really solidified.

Another habit I adopted at the same time was daily meditation. I do it shortly after I get up, before coffee and after feeding the cats. Now I feel weird if I don't go to the cushion for a sit first. I would like to say its enjoyable but its not. Meditation has many benefits but being pleasant isn't one of them.

Building new behaviors into existing routines is so important to making changes that otherwise require discipline. The point is to bypass the decision making process as much as possible so only minimal discipline is required.

One of the best pieces of advice I read last year stated simply "ritualize and have compassion for yourself". Changing your own behavior can be simple if you give yourself maximum support. Here are some things to keep in mind.

1. Your old habits have more power than your new ones. The well worn neural pathways in your brain will favor whatever it is you were doing before.The more difficult the new habit,  the more energy it will require to  reroute your neural pathways. The good news is that making these changes builds and enhances your brain  especially if the habits are beneficial.

2. You can attach your new habit to an old habit to leverage existing behavior flows. I already brush my teeth before bed so flossing was just the matter of making sure there is dental floss next to the toothbrush and making flossing a condition of lying down. Once I'm done flossing I get a mental boost--a feeling of lightness because I completed this little task. Ahhh, dopamine!

3. Don't try to start habits during times of extreme chaos/stress. This is a no brainer--you don't start diets at Christmas.

4. Don't change more than one habit at a time--this advice I read on the No Meat Athlete website. I know, you want to change your life NOW and you want everything to happen at once. Just remember you are building new neural pathways--one is plenty for now.

5. If you miss a day on your new habit don't look at it as a character failure. You literally are changing your brain when you build habits--brain building takes energy and it takes time. The best thing you can do is start again and try to understand why you didn't do whatever habit it was you were trying to build. See if you can move things around in timing or surroundings to make the change part of your overall flow. Be sure to support yourself by drinking water and eating well. Give yourself every advantage so the change fits in naturally.

The habit I started working on the last month was drinking water when I get up (to replenish my brain). Before that it was eating a small meal  with in the first half hour of my day (also to replenish my brain). I now do both without thinking. I support myself by putting a glass of water on my night stand before sleep. When I first wake up I drink the water before my feet touch the floor. After that, I go to the kitchen and make my breakfast smoothie. That goes down the hatch before I head to the cushion for meditation.

The next habit I want/need to adopt is using the foam roller consistently. This habit is difficult because the roller really hurts to use (at least it does now but I understand it gets better the more you use it). Also, the roller is bulky and long--inconvenient to use. To be successful I to make rolling part of my daily flow. I've experimented with rolling in the living room before bed but its awkward (no real room for the roller and the dog is extremely interested)--right now I have to force myself to roll which isn't effective because the pain and inconvenience are always working against me. I miss a lot of days mostly because I procrastinate. I literally hate rolling but I really need to do it...its part of my physical therapy.

My next experiment in integrating the roller will be to use it after meditation and before coffee. If I wait until after coffee I simply won't do it. So starting tomorrow morning its foam roller time between meditation and coffee. I will place the roller in my office so once I'm done meditating I can just get down to use the roller--there is enough space and the dog doesn't go in there. Hopefully when I see my PT in a week she'll be suitably pleased with my progress. At least I hope it stops hurting.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Give your Idols a Break

Don't meet your heros. I've heard this adage before but I don't know who said it. There should be a corollary--don't ask your hero for feedback on your portfolio.

When I was fifteen I begged my Mom to take me to the local comic store because the comic artist I admired most would be there--Wendy Pini. I was full on star struck. I wasn't allowed to go to events like ComicCon and the only had the people I had to share my enthusiasm with (mostly adults) were the ones who hung out at Comics and Fantasies in San Jose. I had been reading Wendy's Elfquest series and was in LOVE with it. It was the only comic I had come across that had such an intelligent story line as well as beautiful, other worldly drawings. It was a huge departure from the over inked, generic 80s style used to draw most Marvel and DC titles.

I slavishly read and reread the books, read every article I could about Wendy's career, the comic and anything else I could find. I collected everything I could find about the series which was precious little unless it was an article on the evolution of Wendy's early work on trying to animate the Elric series to the art she used to depict the saga off the Wolf Riders. Fortunately I had no access to B-Boards or chat rooms because I know I would never get anything done.

When I saw the sign in the window of Comics and Fantasies that Wendy Pini was going to be there I couldn't believe my good luck! This would completely round out my worship of all things Elfquest. For me this was as big as getting back stage passes to a Prince concert for my more "normal" peers.

I came well prepared. I brought my copy of the Comics Journal that had Elfquest as the cover story for her to sign as well as my Elfquest tee-shirt. I also brought my collection of drawings. I wanted to share them with her and get her thoughts. I had not idea how badly this would go.

First off, she nearly refused to sign my tee-shirt (not sure why but she said she had a rule about it). She did eventually sign it because I begged HARD and claimed to be her biggest fan. She said I probably wasn't but I assured her she was wrong on this point. By then the small crowd of fellow dorks were shifting around looking uncomfortable because my nerdishness was causing a serious scene. She was kind of done with me but I couldn't leave without her seeing my drawings. She said she never looked at fan art but when I went into the same routine (biggest fan) she sighed and looked through them. She flipped the pages half heartedly and said I had some "rough" talent and that I needed to work on how my hands looked (its true--the hands I made looked tortured).

In a ridiculous Freudian slip I stammered "that hurts I mean helps". She looked even more uncomfortable and started restating about how she doesn't look at fan art for this reason. I shlumped away (much to every-ones' relief I'm sure). I got some "I told you so" in the car from Mom who thought my mission was utterly idiotic and why the hell was her daughter reading this crap anyway when she had homework to do?

I guess when you get the chance to meet someone you admire (someone who has never met you in your whole life and has no idea of your existence) you can get this bizarre out sized notion that they might want to meet you too.

Now, I was fifteen and fifteen year-olds  have no sense but lots of feeling. I felt embarrassed because I somehow (in a sea of adults who had nothing better to do than go to a comic book store in the middle of the day) felt like such a complete moron for wearing my heart on my sleeve. My drawings were personal (if still "rough"). My affection and adoration for her as an artist (and the person I imagined her to be) were also personal (and sincere). But what I didn't understand was what she might have been going through to be there. I have no idea how many psychos she had to fend off before I showed up. She might have been tired. She might seriously hate meeting strangers. She might have had to deal with someone just like me before and had it end even worse. All that aside, at the time, the experience really sucked (probably for both of us).

This is what I'd like to say to my fifteen year old self.

Hey, Wendy might not know how to help you but its cool. Advice and feedback are a different kind of art form--not everyone knows how to give it. We expect a lot from the people we idolize. Just because you want to connect with them doesn't mean they have the ability to connect with you. What they are good at is doing the thing you admire--unfortunately that might be all they have to offer...making more of that thing you really like. They might not even be comfortable with your admiration because they labor under their own self criticism (who knows...if only we could have perfect insight into the minds of others). Lines of fans pushing things in front of them to sign or asking for them to look at their portfolio--I can see how daunting that would be for a person who spends their time perfecting their specific craft but not the art of meeting the public. It wasn't personal. She probably gave you what she had to give right then. Keep drawing--keep working on your hands.

I didn't stop drawing. I wore my hard won teeshirt as often as I could--until it was full of holes actually. I lent out my copies of EQ out to people who I knew would like the story. I read the series until the storyline (now called The Grand Quest) was wrapped up. After that I didn't read many comic books. Years later I was surprised to see that the series rebooted in several forms and currently is a weekly offering on BoingBoing. It's awesome--you should check it out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cult of Do

Hi it's Saturday morning. I'm starting a cult today.

I'm laying it out there. I have many failures and false starts in my life. Many things I've taken up and written about are there as reminders that I start a lot of stuff and much remains undone. Here is a list of stuff I've started that I can't say is "done" or even really off the ground:

My Undone Stuff
Book on the writing process
Wine blog on wines of the Santa Clara Valley
Blog on the things my cats bury (Paula Poundstone read some of my stuff tho!)
Russian Language skills
Learning to surf
Running a marathon
Doing an unassisted chin
Earning a black belt
Moving to Thailand to teach English
Getting a more "practical" degree
Any of the thousands of things in my craft drawers
and the list goes on and on and on but you get the idea

So what. We love to read about the end of the journey and the triumph that shows up as the residue of lengthy processes. For years I hid these little pursuits because they were my ugly children that I was afraid to trot out for fear of the shaming label of flake, dilettante or whatever it is they call folks who can't focus and get serious about anything.

I had a conversation with a good friend the other day about these fits and starts and the sad feeling of not feeling serious enough to buy into it whole heartedly (or at least get past the energy crisis of torpor and self doubt--damn that lizard brain!).

So, the Culf of Do? Its just about doing...don't feel like you have to impress me with anything you finish...its cool to do things period. There is a Cult of Done. This is not that. This is just about doing...the process and joy of digging in and losing yourself. So what if you're not serious? So what if you have to keep your day job and you only get to say Fuck Yah! I did that for 30 seconds a day. Go ahead and play around and don't worry about finishing it. Just do something. If you finish it we'll have a party! If you don't finish it we'll have a party! Yay for doing!

Ok, time to play outside. Bye!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Plan is not Happy

My wish as a little girl was to be funny. To say and do things that would make the other kids crack up--that means they like you. That's a sharp contrast from what I was told--that being teased and bullied was how kids show that they like you. And that the laughter you hear is of them laughing "with you" not at you.

Also, being funny means you know something that other people know and the laughter is a secret code of understanding.

I clearly didn't understand the other kids and they didn't understand me. This brings me to my other wish.

For as long as I recall I remember being drawn to other girls--not girlie things like dolls and dresses but girls. I was willing to put up with those girlie fascinations because of my own specific fascinations. The older girls, the smart girls, the girls with brown hair and glasses, they lit me up with sweet feelings.

But I knew I wasn't going to get what I wanted. This lively thing inside of me would never get to come out. My peculiar humor and warm feelings bubbled under the surface. I had a strange hope that the aching, visceral feeling ripping my chest could fit into "the plan". The plan to eventually belong to some boy and to be a wife and to put aside childish fascinations. This plan didn't give me any feeling except wondering when this magic switch would be thrown and it would all feel ok.

I started to wonder if I was destined for a cheap rip off of what life was supposed to be--if that was all that was available for me if I couldn't make the plan work. I had the feeling I might never be fully happy.

And that was it. The happiness I felt around girls as I grew and matured filled me and drove my imagination and will to create--if only to give my fascination of the moment the things I made. I grew up surrounded by a chorus of unwitting muses. My mother noticed and told me I was like a little boy trying desperately to get some girls attention. She was so right even though I know she was trying to shame me away from it. I couldn't help myself--how I felt was extraordinary. I wanted the feeling but I also wanted to be good--a good daughter, child of God, accepted in the pack.

And as I grew I started to be accepted in the pack. To distance me from the distracting threats of violence of my peers, Mother sent me to an all girls school. I made friends who got my jokes. I discovered writing. My life improved. But to fully be accepted I needed to deal with the plan. To fit myself in a box--a box that would hold me, the plan, and my burgeoning heart.

I got a non demanding boyfriend with clammy hands but kept finding ways to cuddle with my best friends. I knew to fulfill the promise of the plan I had to leave the paradise of the girls school and straighten myself out. I turned down Smith for a co-ed college--UC Santa Cruz. I knew nothing about this school except men went there too and it was close to home but not so close that I wouldn't have a chance to figure things out on my own.

On the eve of my departure I had a vivid dream. I was on foot at the gateway of the school. The road up the hill (to the shining city on a hill) was lined with beautiful long haired women. One approached me and kissed me on the mouth. I bolted awake with my chest throbbing. This was not the "plan" I envisioned.

A month later I abandoned the plan for good. Life didn't get easier. My father died a few months later. My mother, overcome with grief, lashed out at me for my willful queerness. I made bad choices too--the first I will call the 18 month experiment in how to break up with a drug addict. There were many others.

Most of my bad choices involved choosing the wrong people to explore love with (because now we can call it by its proper name--not the nameless sweet feeling but love). But I was finally free to make bad choices in love and to call it love! This is what a free person does. And the freedom to make bad choices is part of happiness--because that is how you choose the right person--the one who understands your jokes. The one you would not have found by following a plan.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I'm going to make something I've always wanted

When I was a kid I had very little money to buy the things I wanted. My folks weren't into giving large allowances so if I wanted something I had to make it myself. I spent hours devising how to make things I wanted--drawings, putting whatever it was together with scraps in the garage or with whatever materials I could afford to buy. While I couldn't make things like the Walkman I wanted I could sew things for myself, bind my own books of poetry and make musical instruments too!

I have wanted one particular thing that I saw at the Phoenix book store in Big Sur. It was a raw silk jacket. It was a jeans style jacket, a sagey green with a soft lining. At the time I didn't have the $100 to spend on it. I've been searching for this jacket ever since.

I need a challenge. I'm going to make the jacket of my memory. I don't have any of the materials or a pattern but I do have my Aunt's Necchi sewing machine (made in 1954). I have Keri and my sister who can coach me. Now all I have to do is start the process of bringing it together.

I'll post pictures when its done.

Connection not Approval

On my whiteboard at work I wrote my own maxim on how to put myself into my work. It says:

The message must be vivid, compelling, alive and connect me to you.

I'm in a sea of smart people being led by another sea of smart people (perhaps you work in one of those as well?) where ideas and directives are passed down daily but the people who need to embrace these new ideas are all in their own little worlds waiting for a good fairy to touch them on the nose with a wand and for the idea to magically become a reality. But the good fairy never comes and they all go back to their corners and continue to do the things they do as they've done them time and again.

I too have waited for a good fairy to come and bring instantaneous change without my participation (more times than I care to admit actually). I have also "run away to join the circus" more than once in my career. I hoped that if I changed the mode of my work I would be happier--more me. What I was searching for was connection.

Large organizations are poor at fostering connection. Even today at my very well-intentioned company I see the painful struggle of trying to implement large scale change. I work with someone who full time works to implement change--the work of shifting the minds, hearts and hands of our thousands of peers.

There are many theories on why change is hard, how to go about changing how things are done--however, it usually boils down to the organization needing certain things to be done and rewarding based on how well those needs are met.

This approach has nothing to do with people being attracted to and inspired by an idea so powerfully that they naturally line up behind it.

The ideal is to have these changes come from the natural genius of the people who do the work. I think it's too much to ask of each person that they shut up and do as they are told until they are anointed as a leader. Its also too much to ask them to pretend that they "feel" something that isn't there--such as the sense of making a change that will disrupt everything and perhaps not work (or be abandoned for the next idea handed down from on high).

I believe deep down everyone wants to have a chance to do their best original work and have it regarded with attention and appreciation--to connect to their unique audience.

Until people stop waiting for the good fairy to come it won't matter what idea is being pushed down--if you don't like it you have to offer something better. Maybe there is another idea that would make more sense and we are missing it? Magic never comes from leadership unless its the magic of leaders getting out of the way. Its hard for people (especially leaders) to see that. Every message we are given to take responsibility and to innovate is countered with a conflicting message that we need "buy in" and "sponsorship". We sometimes reward these actions with trinkets or official approval (which is a form of control). This feeds back to the notion that you need to be anointed to implement change. Until that mindset changes I don't see that the revolution will come.

Where I'm going with this is that in some cases seeking connection and change isn't particularly safe. The energy to start something is quickly killed off by the need to seek approval instead of seeking connection. The enthusiasm and momentum that comes from spontaneous, organic actions can change everything. It can win hearts, minds and hands. It simply cannot be mandated.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Insane Ideas Update

Remember my insane idea from last October? Yah, me neither...well, no...I remember it quite well which is why I'm writing an update to it.

My hip still isn't where it needs to be to run. Late November, I resumed a very light running schedule under Aracely's supervision. It was going ok. We were meeting twice a week to do core and pelvic strengthening while I started to integrate short runs. My core strength improved dramatically--I stand much taller because of it.

I had my setback in December during a scheduled "longer" run. I had already procrastinated on going out because of the rainfall but convinced myself to go out the next day (I didn't want to fall behind). I felt myself hunching over from the cold. My form was all over the place and I couldn't correct it. In less than a mile and a half my hip started to hurt intensely. I walked it in and wrote Aracely a note. She agreed that I needed to stop running until my pain subsided.

But after three weeks off running my hip was still troubling me. I was getting frustrated. After one excruciating strength class I couldn't handle the pain. After an emotional exchange, Aracely and I agreed to hold off on training until I had a doctor examine me thoroughly.

The verdict? I wasn't strong enough in one muscle group to resume running. I need to take an even more gradual approach to building my strength starting with seeing the PT exclusively until the weakness balances out.

I'm glad its not a tear, break or something worse. Still, I'm astounded that its taking so long to build strength in this one area. Everything else is strong.

During all this I really struggled with the thought of quitting--quitting training, running, my marathon goal and everything that had to do with it. I haven't quit but I cannot think of anything in my life that has gone as slowly as this.

I wanted a triumphant comeback. I wanted in the space of four months to resolve my strength issues, redeem myself as a runner and also conquer the surfing thing. My story is more like "The Little Snail That Keeps Creeping Along".

So for now Nicaragua is on hold (although Aracely just wrote me to tell me the dates have been set, the tshirts at the printers etc). She is waiting for me to come back. To be her student and to finish what I started.

I'm turning 46 this month--where will I be at 47 if I give up now?

I've taken up longboarding to stand in for surfing. I carve around my neighborhood blacktop and think of warm Pacific water. I have a pile of Runner's World magazines waiting for me to read them. I will pick them up...I just need to feel a little less insulted by my body.